Bonding with your baby
Skin-to-skin (also known as kangaroo care)
Skin-to-skin means having your baby on you, their naked skin next to yours with a blanket over both of you for warmth. Parents who have given birth should be able to do this straight after the baby has been born, even if they have had a caesarean section, unless there is a medical reason why it’s not possible (you can put it in your birth plan). If you can’t hold your baby, your birth partner (if you have one) can.
There are lots of benefits to parents having skin-to-skin contact with their baby. It can:
- help you bond with your baby
- encourage breastfeeding
- keep your baby warm
- regulate your baby’s heart rate, breathing rate and blood sugars
- comfort your baby.
If you can’t hold your baby skin-to-skin, you could hold their hand or gently touch them so they can feel your warmth. Any touch from a parent can comfort your baby and help you bond.
Skin-to-skin can happen for as long as you and your baby are comfortable with it. Just make sure you are fully awake and alert because falling asleep on a bed, sofa or armchair with your baby increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Skin-to-skin in NICU
If your baby is in the neonatal unit, ask your midwife about trying some skin-to-skin contact. It has lots of immediate and long-term benefits for premature and low birthweight babies, such as:
- reduced hospital stays
- improved physical growth and development
- improved social development
- improved breastfeeding.
It’s completely natural to feel disappointed or upset if you’re not able to enjoy skin-to-skin contact as soon as your baby is born. But you can start and carry on doing skin-to-skin in the days, weeks and months to come. If you breastfeed, you’ll have plenty of opportunities. Both parents can do skin-to-skin when bottle-feeding too.
Eye contact with your baby
Newborn babies can see, but their vision isn’t very focused. Their eyesight develops gradually over the first few months. By the time your baby is 2 weeks old, you’ll probably notice their eyes following your face.
You can bond with your baby and help them learn to recognise your face by giving them plenty of eye contact and lots of smiles.
Chatter, chatter, chatter
One of the most important things you can do with your baby is hold them close and talk to them calmly every day, as often as you can. You can chat to your baby about anything you like. For example, what you’re doing, what’s around you or what they might be thinking. You can even start reading to them if you like.
You could also try singing to your baby, which helps them tune into the rhythm of language. Eventually, your baby will start making sounds and gurgling back at you. Try repeating the sounds your baby makes back to them, which teaches your baby useful lessons about listening and taking turns in conversion.
Hold your baby as much as possible (in your arms or in a sling). When you cuddle your baby, they feel safe and loved. You can’t ‘spoil’ a baby with lots of cuddling – it’s what babies need. You may sometimes feel like you’re always left ‘holding the baby’, but treasure these moments because they’ll be fidgeting and running about before you know it!
Find out more about your baby's development and how they learn to communicate with you.
Tummy time means giving your baby some time every day lying on their tummy. It helps your baby to build the muscles they need for sitting and crawling. You can start doing tummy time from birth by lying your baby on your chest. When your baby is ready, try doing tummy time on the floor.
Giving your baby tummy time is a great opportunity for having fun together. Try lying on the floor together, chatting to them and encouraging them to move around. You could try putting some toys nearby for them to reach out to, and eventually crawl towards.
Only do tummy time when your baby is awake and alert, and you're there to keep an eye on them.
Play with me
Playing simple games with your baby is a great way to spend time together and get to know each other. It’s never too early to try to make your baby laugh! You could try:
- stroking their hands, feet or face
- cuddling them and dancing gently around the room to your favourite music
- bending their legs gently in and out
- touching the palm of their hand and letting them hold your fingers
- blowing gently on their tummy
- showing them things around your home or outside and tell your baby about them – remember everything is new and exciting, even a lamp or a tree.
Health and development reviews
You’ll be offered regular health and development reviews with a health visitor for your baby until they are 2. These are to support you and your baby, and make sure their development is on track.
If you have any concerns about your baby’s development, you don’t need to wait until your appointments. You’ll be given contact details for your labour ward, midwife and health visitor in case you need any support outside appointment times.
It’s natural to worry a little about your baby’s health. You may find it useful to know more about common baby health issues, so you can feel more confident about spotting symptoms and knowing when to get medical help.
What if I’m not bonding with my baby?
Some women fall in love with their babies from the moment of birth, and some women find that their love grows slowly over the first few weeks as they get to know and care for their baby. Both are normal.
If you’re finding it difficult to bond with your baby, feel sad, hopeless or guilty all the time for weeks or months after you’ve had a baby it could be a sign of postnatal depression. This can be treated with the right care and support, and most women will make a full recovery.
Talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP about how you feel. They can help you get the best support for how you’re feeling.
Sue Macdonald, Gail Johnson, Mayes’ Midwifery. Edinburgh: Baillir̈e Tindall Elsevier, 2017), p.746
NHS Choices. sudden infant death syndrome https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sudden-infant-death-syndrome-sids/ (Page last reviewed: 20/07/2018. Next review due: 20/07/201)
Charpak N et al (2017) Twent-year Follow-up of Kangaroo Mother Care versus Traditional Care. Pediatrics 2017 Jan;139(1). pii: e20162063. doi: 10.1542/peds.2016-2063. Epub 2016 Dec 12.
Gathwala G, et al (2010) Effect of Kangaroo Mother Care on physical growth, breastfeeding and its acceptability. Tropical Doctor. 2010 Oct;40(4):199-202. doi: 10.1258/td.2010.090513. Epub 2010 Jul 28.
NHS Choices. Getting to know your newborn. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/your-baby-after-birth/ (Page last reviewed: 20/02/2018. Next review due: 20/02/2021)
NHS Choices. Help your baby learn to talk. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/helping-your-childs-speech/ (Page last reviewed: 30/04/2017. Next review due: 30/04/2020)
NHS Choices. How to keep your baby or toddler active https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/keeping-kids-active/#why-tummy-time-is-important (Page last reviewed: 30/04/2017. Next review due: 30/04/2020)
NHS Choices. Postnatal depression https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/post-natal-depression/ (Page last reviewed: 11/02/2016. Next review due: 01/02/2019)